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A Tale of Struggling, Toil and Tears

By David Ruben

Translated by Eilat Gordin Levitan and Kevin Chun Hoi Lo

I, David Ruben, born in the year 1918 in the town of Vileyka and
resident of Ilja until the Holocaust, report the testimony that:

In 1939, Germany stormed into Poland. Some Jewish youth served
in the Polish army and many of them were killed in battles with the
Germans, while others became prisoners of war. After days of chaos, on
September 17, 1939, the Red Army entered our area (they had an
agreement with Germany to divide Poland) and the Jewish prisoners of
war (captured by the Soviets) were released and returned to town.
After a short time, the Soviets established their authority in the
area. They announced that all of the industries and factories should
be nationalized. Some of their previous owners were taken with
"honors" to prison an exile according to the Soviet rules.
Temporarily, the smaller store keepers continued operating and using
the Polish zloty, but they were limited to selling only the goods left
in the store. They soon changed the monetary system and only Soviet
rubles were allowed. By January of 1940 all the smaller merchants
effectively had to end their businesses. The last straw came in the
form of high taxes that closed even more stores.

Looking elsewhere for work, the Jewish youth found new
opportunities within the Soviet system. Many of the town's youth left
to go for the big cities where there were better chances for
employment, while the rest enrolled and studied diligently in colleges
and trade schools. The youth enthusiastically studied Russian and
looked for technical professions like car mechanics, tractor
mechanics, truck drivers, etc. All the trades people joined
cooperative unions run by the government and almost all the managers
of these unions were Jews. Many of the Jews also found good jobs as
clerks in the higher echelons of government. Also, many joined the
Soviet municipal system and other such institutions. Jews ran many of
the trading and storage enterprises.

The relationship between the Jewish and Christian populations of
both Belarussian and Polish descent was regarded as mutually
beneficial and agreeable. It seemed that most people had adapted well
to the Soviet system and life idled peacefully until the summer of
1941, when Germany initiated a surprise attack against the Soviet
Union and its territories. By the beginning of July of 1941, the town
was already in the hands of the Germans. Only a small number of the
Jewish youth succeeded in leaving the area with the retreating Red
Army. Most did not have this opportunity because of the lack of public
transportation. As a primary reason, the train station was far away
and many of the trains had been derailed. Many attempted to leave the
town either by foot or by horse and buggy, but these people returned
after a few days when they realized that all the roads were blocked.

Another reason that stopped many from attempting to flee was
that until the last minute, many of the Jews believed in the strength
of the Red Army. Consequently, they thought the Red Army's retreat
was a tactic to mislead the Nazis and that the Red Army would soon
return to defeat the Nazis. These people had been confident in a
Soviet victory.

As soon as the Nazis arrived, they showed extreme cruelty toward
the Jewish population. The officer of the district was an SS
(Schutzstaffel, literally Elite Echelon) man and he ordered the Jews
in the month of September of 1941 to move to the ghetto. The Jews were
told that the Judenrat would now be the liaison for the German
authorities and the Jewish community. Amongst its members were Isaac
Sender, Shlomo Koifman, Ben Zion Broide and Moshe Zut headed it.
During the initial days, some of the Jews of Ilja still lived in a tar
factory outside of the ghetto in a distance of two kilometers from the
town. Amongst the Jewish families who lived there was our own family,
the Rubin family, and the Kopilovich family. Every day some Jews would
leave the ghetto to work in the factory. Life continued and every day
brought new rules. For example, Jews were not allowed to barter or
communicate with Christians and they were not to be compensated for
their work. Jews were not allowed to walk on the sidewalk, but only
in the middle of the street like animals. They also had to wear
yellow patches and they were not allowed to leave town.

The Food Supply in the Ghetto

The allocation of food for the Jewish population in the ghetto
was the responsibility of the Judenrat and the Jewish population.
Therefore, there was only a very small amount of food available. As
the main go-betweens, the Jews who lived outside of the ghetto sneaked
in most of the food available. Different trades were conducted with
the local non-Jewish population secretly. They supplied food to the
pharmacy and from there it was transferred to other places. The Jews
of the ghetto who went to work as forced labor outside of the ghetto
would covertly barter with the local population for food staples.
People who were very poor were helped by the rest of the Jews in the
ghetto. Most trades involved exchanging either money or personal
belongings for food. There were no Jewish doctors in town even before
the war, but outside of the ghetto lived a Polish doctor by the name
of Stanislav Yakstir. He was a true humanitarian who had a great love
for mankind. He did not care about the danger involved in
communicating with Jews and would sneak into the Ghetto in order to
tend to the sick, doing this out of compassion, not for money. His
wife, also a physician, was much like him and expressed her deep
compassionate feelings for the Jewish people. During Soviet rule this
family was already loved by the entire population and Doctor Yakstir
had been a member of Gur Soviet, the town committee.

The Day of the Slaughter and the Onset of the Underground

In January of 1942 some of the Jewish youth decided to organize cells
to fight the Nazis. The first organizers came from the refugees who
arrived from Warsaw, Lodge and areas of the Soviet Union. They had
arrived in our area in 1939 after Warsaw and Lodge fell into German
hands. Some of them were able to contact the Soviet partisans that
organized in the area between Minsk and Plashetznitz (Pleshenitsy).
Slowly, more and more cells organized in our area but life in town
continued without much change until the day of the big slaughter.
There was a small town named Chatsensitz

(CHOCIENCZYCE ) near Ilja. The Jewish population of that town, about
seventy souls, worked in a factory of meat and salami products under
the management of a German SS man. On a Saturday evening on March 14,
1942, a Soviet partisan with a base nearby attacked the factory,
kidnapped the manager and took all the products into the forest. The
next morning, on March 15th in the early morning, a large troop of
policemen from Vileyka and a nearby area arrived in Ilja. Claiming
that the Jews had worked with partisans to coordinate the attack, they
used this attack on the factory as an excuse to annihilate the Jews of
Ilja. They looked in the surrounding villages for the partisans but
the next evening on the 16th of March, they returned with large army
units and policemen. The Jews of Ilja knew in their hearts that this
was a very bad omen. During that night, no one slept. Everyone lay in
their beds fully dressed and alert to what was happening outside.
Despite this, people refused to believe that the Germans were planning
a mass murder. When nothing happened during the night, the young
people went early in the morning to work in the forest as usual and
some of them arrived there before dawn. As soon as dawn came the
Germans put blockades all around the town and all the roads from the
ghetto were lined with troops holding automatic rifles. Assisted by
the local and Lithuanian police specially brought from other regions,
they soon started going from home to home. Searching for every man,
woman and child, they removed them from their homes and forced them to
run to the designated central locations in the market. Four SS men
with automatic rifles arrived at our house near the tar factory
outside of town. They forcefully took all my family members, as well
as the other workers and their children, to the marketplace in Ilja.
SS men took my brother Majrim Rubin, (born in Ilja, Poland in 1926),
out of his workplace. He was about 16. He wanted to live and attempted
to escape. He was shot and killed at the entrance of the house in
front of our family. He lay in the middle of a big pool of blood but
no one could stop to help him because we were all forced to run by the
SS men. While I was running I saw many of my friends trying to run
away on the frozen river, in the direction of the forest. The Germans
chased them and kept shooting with automatic rifles. Some of the SS
people who guarded us left us and also opened fire toward these
escaping Jews. With my own eyes I saw the bloody death of many of my
good friends. I heard my father Wolf Rubin scream, "What is happening
here? Where are they chasing us to?" He could not continue since an SS
man who heard him hit him with his rifle and with his face running red
with blood, he quieted down. In this condition we arrived at the
market with most of the Jewish population. There were babies,
toddlers, women and old people. Shaking from fear and the cold, they
all stood in the crowded area. New groups arrived constantly. They all
had been ordered to run by the murderers. On the 3rd of May Street,
the body of Jakob Brunsztejn lay dead. He had attempted to hide in
the barn of Viyarmee, a Christian resident of the town, but Viyeramee
found him and brought the SS men to the barn. They shot him on the
spot. (Report taken from Yad Vashem: Jakob Brunsztejn was born in
Ilja, Poland in 1913 to Yehuda. He was a teacher and single. Prior to
World War II he lived in Ilja, Poland. During the war, he resided in
Ilja, Poland. Jakob died in 1942 in Ilja, Poland. This information is
based on a page of testimony submitted on 04/05/1956 by his
brother-in-law, Yona Rier, a Shoah survivor.) People who were too old
or too sick to leave their homes were shot in cold-blood in their own
homes either sitting at their tables or lying in their beds.

Many of the young people that gathered in the market talked
among themselves and decided to resist the Germans and try to escape.
They told their parents, "We must try to jump the guards and policemen
and each one of us will try to run wherever we can." Their parents,
especially their mothers, were very much against this plan. Even at
this moment they still believed that God would help them and they
never lost their faith. So with hearts full of bitterness and
desperation, the youth decided to give up. I remember seeing Reb
Avraham Yitzhok, the shochet (kosher slaughterer) of the town. He was
dressed in his holiday clothes and his talit was under his arms. His
face was filled with a holy glow. He had also been taken to the market
and throughout the entire walk and in the market, he never stopped
reading Psalm chapters…

In this manner the German masters, their assistants and comrades
continued to harass and gather all the Jews of the town in the market.
More and more Jews were crowded into the gathering spot and They all
shook from the cold winter weather. A few Christian wagoneers from the
local population who assisted the Germans came by and informed the SS
that a group of young Jews hidden in the nearby forest were armed with
axes. A group of police immediately were dispatched and after some
time they returned with a group of about fifteen badly beaten Jewish
youth. At this point, it was apparent that the SS murderers were not
content with just killing the Jews. They wished to have their
possessions too. They announced that everyone who gave their
valuables out of their own free will would be spared. Some of the Jews
wanted to believe this so they went with the Germans to their hiding
places and showed them where they had some valuables and money. The
Germans took everything and executed them on the spot. Avraham Vaines
(Taken from Yad Vashem: [Avraham] Vaines was born in Ilja, Poland in
1903 to Moshe and Perla. He was a lesopromyshlennik (a timber industry
worker) and single. Prior to World War II, he lived in Ilja, Poland.
During the war he was in Ilja, Poland. He died in 1942 in Ilja,
Poland. This information is based on a page of testimony submitted on
10/25/2001 by his cousin. Another report was given by the son of his
brother, Yitzhok Vaines, in 1955), who was thirty-six years old, had
been hidden in a wood storage area when a local Belarusian policeman
found him. Vaines begged him, "You know me well. Can you pretend that
you didn't see me?" The policeman said nothing but eventually brought
back an SS man. Vaines became enraged, taking a big iron pole and
hitting the Belarusian policeman on the head while screaming,
"Traitor! Criminal!" When he started attacking the SS man, one of the
policemen shot Vaines and he fell dead while protecting his honor.
Around noontime the Germans started picking out from amongst the Jews
a few professional people that they felt were still needed at that
time. This selection was done by a local Belarusian and about twenty
heads of families with their wives and children were put aside in a
storage area. They were blacksmiths, plumbers, pharmacists and so on.

All of a sudden, Malkis the forester came running. He was a
Polish inspector who collaborated with the Nazis and had been
appointed by the Germans as head forester. He knew my family members
and after talking to the head of the SS, he was allowed to take my
family out of the main group and set us aside with the professionals.
My good friend Sara Sosman was added to my family as my wife. Her
sister Lyuba, who had a baby girl of about two years of age, gave her
daughter to Sara and said, "Take my little baby Judith with you.
Maybe she will survive this way." For this reason my family members
survived the selection. Everyone on the spot understood and there were
no illusions of the fate of the people who were not selected. During
the Soviet time, they had established in the vegetable garden of
Vaines a huge freezer for fruit and meat products, and next to it was
a deep hole in the ground to store the ice. This ice storage area was
used that day for the mass burial of nine hundred Jews from Ilja, men,
women, children and babies alike. All the Jews selected to be killed
in the market were taken to this site. On both sides of the entrance
stood SS men armed with machine guns. As soon as the people arrived,
they were ordered to remove their clothes and run inside, where they
were shot from all sides and fell directly into the frozen pit. This
was the last walk of most of the Jews of our town on this day of
slaughter. The murderers then poured oil onto the walls of the
building and set it on fire. The local Christian population later told
us that for many hours they could hear from afar the screams and
anguished cries of the wounded who did not die from the bullets. The
fire had woken them from their unconsciousness. Thus ended Ilja, a
Jewish community with centuries of a glorious history.

The next morning the SS and the Lithuanian police left the area.
As ordered by the town's mayor and the local police, the few survivors
were transferred to a small ghetto. Amongst the survivors were also a
few like Rabbi Remez who had been able to hide in their homes. A few
of the so-called specialists whose lives had been spared were ordered
to harness sleighs and to go amongst the yards and homes of the former
ghetto to collect the bodies of those killed in their own homes. All
the bodies were gathered and buried and the few survivors continued
with lives filled with insecurity and the looming specter of imminent
death. Life continued like this for three months, but the bitter end
did not wait long. On the seventh of June in 1942, most of the
survivors met their deaths.

The Day the Remnants Perished

As I wrote before, Inspector Malkis, savior of my family during
the day of killing, was a collaborator with the Germans. Since he knew
the forests in the region very well, he knew where the Soviet
partisans were hiding out and establishing bases. Often he would go to
the SS troops and tell them of the disturbances in the forest. When
the headquarters of the partisans discovered Malkis' collaboration
with the Nazis, they had a trial in absentia and sentenced him to
death. After some time they were able to carry out the sentence on the
Saturday afternoon of June 6. Two partisans dressed in plain clothing
arrived at Malkis' headquarters, entered his room and asked him to
verify his identity. When he admitted to being Malkis they forced him
to raise his hands, collected all documents from his office and shot
him on the spot. Immediately, news spread to the town of this
occurrence. The Jews instantly knew what was coming next but they
couldn't escape. All the roads were closed and the town was
surrounded by SS units, army units and policemen from Vileyka and the
surrounding area. The next day, on the early Sunday morning of June 7,
the Germans prepared for the annihilation of the ghetto. At dawn they
started taking Jewish men, women and children out of their homes. This
time the search was very precise and detailed; the Germans searched
every basement and attic. During the first massacre, a few Jews had
been able to hide in their basements or other hideouts that they had
prepared but this was not possible this time. The search lasted the
entire day. At 5:00 in the afternoon a Christian man with whom I had
been friends with since childhood came to my workplace in the tar
factory. Since he worked in the office of Malkis, he gave me the
details of everything that had occurred in town and urged me to run
away quickly since he knew that the SS would arrive any minute to take
the Jews who worked in the tar factory. We were the last to be taken.
He kept begging me to escape since he really cared about me and wanted
me to survive. After begging me to leave, he left us.

I stood there with my beloved father as if we were busy with
work. Both us were acutely aware of what was to come. I said to him,
"Dear father, if we value life, we must escape quickly because we know
that this time, there will be no one to save us from the hands of the
Nazis. Our former protector Malkis is dead and there is no one left to
help us. Let's go hide amongst the wood chips and logs stacked as high
as towers. We can hide in them until the annihilation finishes and we
can maybe survive." While I was still talking I saw from afar a long
parade of SS men and policemen approaching the tar factory. I urged my
father to hurry because I knew we only had a few moments to escape. My
father turned to me with his usual glowing face and looked at me for a
minute. He then said, "My dear son, if you want to save yourself, do
it and don't pay any attention to me. Perhaps the merciful God will
assist you, but I cannot join you. It's too late to save the rest of
the family and I cannot leave them alone. I must go with them. I must
join my partner in life and our children. I must not let them go to
their last walk alone. How can I run away and survive as the rest of
the family perishes? No, I cannot do it. If you, my son, want to do
it, don't let your heart fall. Try to escape and maybe you will be
able to survive. My blessing, the blessing of your loving father, is
given to you wherever you go and wherever you'll be." Report taken
from Yad Vashem: Wolf- Zev Rubin was born in Dolhinow, Poland in 1890
to Menakhem Mendel and Reizl. He was a merchant and married to Yehudit
nee Kukin. Wolf died in 1942 in Ilja, Poland. This information is
based on a page of testimony submitted on 11/07/1955 by his son, David
Rubin in Haifa.

He also gave reports for his mother; Ida- Yehudit who was born in
Pleshchenitsy, (Belorussia) in 1895 to David and Miriam, his sister:
Shoshana Rosa born in 1924, his brother Maijrim born in 1926, his
uncles and cousins: the Kopelewicz family of Ilja, and many friends.


Picture of father Zev Wolf Rubin

My eyes filled with tears as my father forced himself to look
directly above my head. He turned around and entered the house. I
stood in the yard in shock and looked around. The sun was setting and
I could hear the sound of the waves on the Ilja River. The trees of
the forest were lively with blossoms. How beautiful was this world?
Everything around me exuded exquisite colors and vibrant shades of
life, but we had received a sentence of death and annihilation.

The sound that engines make as they stop, the barking orders of
the Nazis and the curses that sounded like predatory beasts ready to
devour awoke me from my daydream. I decided that I would fight my
fate. I would resist. I would survive.

I quickly jumped amongst the towers of wooden logs and I made
myself into a very small ball so I could not be seen. I could still
see everything that was occurring though. I saw very clearly how they
took my family members and my relatives out of the house. I saw them
take my beloved father. I saw him standing in the yard and staring at
an unseen point as if he were looking for somebody. I saw how they
took my dear mother. Altogether there were thirteen souls in the
house, including my aunt and her two children who had escaped from
Russia and hidden with us. Amongst them was also my fiancée Sara
Sosman (Report taken from Yad Vashem: Sara Sosman was born in Wilna,
Poland in 1919 to Volf and Khaia. During the war in Poland, Sara died
in 1942 in Ilja, Poland. This information is based on a page of
testimony submitted on 11/07/1955 by her boy friend.) and the daughter
of her sister, little Yehudit, whom I have already described saving
during the original massacre. The Germans took them all. The
murderers, may their names be erased, realized that I was not amongst
the people and started looking for me. Only when it became dark did
they disappear, taking away all the dearly beloved people of my life.
I saw it all.

I continued sitting there quietly. I watched the shadows grow long,
watched as the darkness swallowed me up. I stumbled out of my hideout
and for the last time entered our home. As I entered I realized that
everything had been tampered with and thrown everywhere. It was clear
that the killers had been searching for gold and other valuables. I
dressed quickly and took my shoes, running towards the river. Crossing
it and entering the forest, I walked for some distance and then sat on
a tree stump at the edge of the forest. I pondered my fate and my
destiny while from afar I could hear shooting and see sparks in the
air. In those desperate cries and sighs of pain, I realized that at
that moment the Germans were killing all that I knew and loved.
Without a sound, my entire body screamed, cried, mourned. I wished to
cry loudly but the tears never came. I felt as if my heart had
hardened into a rock. A wave of anger swept over me. Extreme rage and
desire for revenge boiled my blood and I swore to myself that I would
fight for my life and for my honor. I swore to avenge my family
wherever and whenever I could as long as I had one drop of blood.

The jarring sound of machine gun fire and flying bullets awoke me from
this emotional vow. I immediately realized that in order to fulfill
this vow I would have to have a clear head. I told myself that I must
immediately leave the area in order to realize my destiny. I decided
to go to Chatzintzitz (CHOCIENCZYCE ) , a large ranch that had
belonged to the nobleman Borovsky before the war. I remembered that
there were about seventy Jews who lived and worked there. I decided
that I must quickly let them know of what had occurred in Ilja since
they were inevitably next. I had to warn them so they could perhaps
survive and join me in the fight against the Germans. I continued
walking in deep thought for about sixteen kilometers. At about one in
the morning, I arrived at Chatzintzitz. Jumping over the barbed wire
and then slowly crawling, I arrived at one of the homes and quietly
knocked on the window. Chayim Yosef Kopilovich and his family lived
here. When he heard the noise coming from the window, he woke up and
thinking it was a cat, he started shooing me away saying, "Psik Psik."
I whispered to him in Yiddish, "Don't turn on the lights. Open the
door. I am a Jew." Kopilovich opened the door and immediately
recognized me. I told him to quickly go to the local leaders, Israel
Zimmerman and the engineer Brunislav Rotblat from Varsha. I said that
I had urgent news for them. As soon as they arrived I told them all
that had occurred and that now that Ilja had been eliminated, the
Germans would get to them next. They needed to escape immediately.
The entire Jewish population gathered and discussed what to do. The
women cried bitterly and many were afraid of running. In the end,
their instinct to survive drove them and they all decided to escape
deep into the forest. At four in the morning, as dusk approached, we
left Chatzintzitz and began our new life. The men immediately started
digging holes in the ground and covered them with tree branches and
greenery. Inside, women, children and elderly people hid in the damp
darkness. The young men and teenagers started looking for the
partisans. After a few days we were able to get in touch with the
Soviet partisans base in the forest about twenty-five kilometers from
where we had left the women, the elderly and the children.

The Partisans in the Forest
My contact with the partisans in the forest was a friend of
mine, a forester from Zatzarnuya. He arranged for a meeting with the
headquarters and I did not ask for this meeting for my sake only. I
wanted them to accept all the other men who were with me. They agreed
to take us as long as we would take care of ourselves and acquire our
own weapons. We obtained these weapons by paying farmers in the
surrounding areas. Once we had some weapons we decided to take the
rest by force. There were two partisan brigades in the forest in this
area and all the able healthy young men joined those brigades. One of
those brigades was named Shtromboya, headed by a Russian colonel named
Lunin. Most of the people who escaped from Chatzintzitz joined this
brigade. I joined the other brigade. I had an atrazanka, a short
rifle, and on the 25th of June 1942, I joined the brigade to fight for
our homeland. We were led by Vladimir Zacharov, a Soviet officer who
at the onset of the war had become a prisoner of war and later joined
the resistance after escaping from German captivity. I came to this
unit at four in the morning. This particular unit only had fourteen
people and most of them were prisoners of war. They did not have
sufficient ammunition and had no explosives. Clearly we could do very
little due to this lack of equipment and power. When we would gather
with our leader Zacharov to plan missions, people looked unfavorably
at me, the only Jew in the unit. Our main goal at this time was
collecting explosives for sabotage missions (e.g. derailing German
trains through explosives, planting land mines, and preparing
weapons). We went to abandoned battlefields and looked for explosives
that hadn't been activated. We brought all that we found to the camp
and carefully took everything apart, collecting all of the explosive
material. From that raw material, we made weapons. The farmers in the
surrounding area let us know where we could find ammunition and stored
explosives. We began collecting them and also urged anyone in the
local population with military training to join us. Since we were a
small unit, in the first few months our main missions consisted of
putting out explosives for army trains as well as attacking small
divisions of German armies traveling on the road between Vilna and
Minsk. Our weapons were primitive. We would go to the train tracks,
dig a hole in the ground and put in our explosives, tied to a long
rope. We would go back between two and three hundred meters and as
soon as the train arrived to a certain point, we would pull the rope
and cause explosions. In this way we were able to destroy some army
trains and kill some Germans. Most of our missions took place near the
old Polish-Soviet border next to the forest surrounding Minsk. As time
passed, more and more Jews joined our unit and we were eventually able
to be a truly active battalion.

The effectiveness of our unit greatly improved. We started
getting military supplies at regular intervals. When we didn't have
sufficient supplies we would go to the nearby villages and demand
supplies. In many cases we gave the supplies to isolated Jews hiding
in the forest. The Germans became increasingly bothered by the
resistance and they tried using blockades to catch us. During the
months of September, October and November, they made a huge blockade
all around us but were still unsuccessful. By the December of 1942 our
unit had become much larger and our situation greatly improved again.
Now we could hold larger scale raids and also collaborate with other
units for complex operations. We finally made contact with the Red
Army. They supplied us with paratroopers, soldiers in the regular army
and trained in pyrotechnics. The paratroopers brought along some
high-quality explosives. Now we were ready for large scale operations.

The Attack on Astishitsky Gorodok
Located about forty kilometers from Minsk on the road towards
Vilna was the shtetl Aushtishitsky Gorodok. Since this town stood on a
very strategic location even during peacetime, the Germans established
a base there in 1942. The Germans stored a large supply of weapons and
other essential supplies in this area. During a bitterly cold night in
December of 1942, we were told to attack the base. We left on sleighs
for the mission on wearing white sheets since snow covered the area
and we wanted to be camouflaged. Before we left, each person received
a supply of food and a little bit of smagon, homemade alcohol given to
warm ourselves. This mission started badly for me personally. Just
before we left, my commander Zacharov ordered me to stay in the camp
and not join the unit in its large operation with the Shtormobiya.
This made me very unhappy and I suspected that Zacharov was suspicious
of me because I'm a Jew. I kept begging him to let me go but he
refused. When I thought that there was no choice I said, "No matter
what you say I will not stay behind." He became very serious and
looked at me very angrily. All of a sudden without saying anything he
started smiling. I saw this smile as an agreement and so I left with
my comrades. When we arrived at the place we separated into smaller
units. We settled down and waited until the zero hour, which was the
moment when the rest of the units would arrive. When everyone arrived
the entire area was surrounded. They sent me with a group of four
others to go near the barbed wire to break it and then to light the
barns on fire. Burning the barns was the signal for our brigade to
attack from all sides. We came near but the Germans discovered us
before we were able to break the fence and burn the barns. As soon as
we reached about hundred meters from the fence, the dogs started
barking. As soon as these dogs barked, the Germans fired a flare
rocket to light up the area. When they saw us, they opened fire
immediately and we hid and returned fire. Meanwhile, the rest of the
unit on the right and left of us came close and the Germans started
firing to these other directions, giving us the opportunity to
complete our specific mission. After a short time all of the barns
were on fire and the entire area was lit with sparkling flames. The
Germans were struck by great shock and panic as our units pushed
forward. The unit to the right of us reached the enemy and after
throwing some grenades, they were able to kill them. It took less than
half an hour before the Germans ran for their lives, leaving
everything behind. We were able to capture large amounts of weaponry
and other supplies. We even found an anti-tank cannon. During this
mission we suffered nineteen casualties (four fatalities, fifteen
wounded). Among the heroes that fell was one commander by the name of
Eliushka, an excellent and extremely brave person. After the operation
we took with us the doctor of that town and his wife. This doctor
later became the resident doctor of the partisan base. We returned to
the base at four in the morning. My participation in this mission was
the opportunity for me to join other military missions that our unit
participated in. Shortly after this I was appointed to be the
commander of a unit of saboteurs and fifteen people were under my
command. Amongst them was an amazing person by the name of Vladya. He
was a very courageous, good-hearted, stubborn and able-bodied man,
always ready to join a mission. The partisan movement kept expanding
the number of troops in the entire area and in April of 1943, all the
units united for a large military mission. The brigade was divided
into four regiments, all under the authority of the commander of the
entire mission, Colonel Lunin. His assistant was Zacharov, our comrade
who had been promoted to the rank of major. Each battalion received
specific instructions to control different geographic areas and
special units were kept for contact amongst the battalions to initiate
cooperative movements. Shortly before that mission the late March of
1943 I had an unpleasant experience that illustrated the anti-Semitism
even among the partisans. One day when we rested in the village
Sorotzini, a drunken Ukrainian partisan pointed at me and asked, "What
is this Jew doing with us?" I became enraged and slapped his face with
all my might. He drew his weapon and attempted to attack me, but other
comrades stood between us and protected me. They confiscated his
weapon and tied him to his bed for the rest of the night. The next
morning he came to me and apologized. I forgave him, but from that
point on I watched him carefully since I had heard from others that he
had talked to them about his desire for revenge against me and his
false plea for forgiveness. This blind hatred towards Jews caused many
partisans to lose their minds. Truthfully, I must say that this
behavior was foolish because if people complained about another
comrade, he would immediately be taken to trial. In many instances
regarding both Jews and non-Jews, people were accused of poor behavior
and subsequently executed without much investigation. During this
time we received some Jewish fighters from Minsk. Amongst them were
two Jews who had been forced to be clerks for the Nazis before
escaping to the forest. Someone told me that these Jews had treated
the Russian prisoners of war mercilessly. All of their explanations
and convincing testimonies did not save them. Even giving them exact
information on Minsk and the surrounding area did not save them. They
were put on trial and received the death penalty and shot in the
forest not far from the river Brezina. Such testimonials brought an
end to the lives of many partisans.

On The Road Between Ilja and Krasne

Until the end of the summer of 1943, most of my missions as a
commander of a saboteur unit were small operations aimed at destroying
the transportation infrastructure of the Germans. During those
missions we went deep inside the German lines. Many times we crossed
the Polish border and had missions near Ilja. In June of 1943 we had a
mission on the road between Ilja and Krasne. From the villagers living
by the road, I received very reliable information about German
movements. In the little village of Rinevka, there was a big factory
for cardboard. Every day the Germans would transfer the finished
products in cars to the train that took it to Vilna. We decided to put
an end to this. We set mines on the road near the place where they
would meet the train and waited for the explosion. To our great
sorrow the mines did not explode and the Germans continued without
realizing that we had planned for their deaths. As soon as the Germans
left we returned to check why the mines hadn't exploded. My friend
Vladya touched the mine and as soon as he touched it, the mine
exploded and he was killed on the spot. With our hearts filled with
pain and anger, we entered the factory and destroyed it. We then
buried our comrade Vladya in the forest near the road between the two

Despite the fact that I only had sabotage missions, I had many
exciting moments and terrible episodes that caused me great emotional
pain. I would like to mention one such episode. In July of 1943 we
captured three bandrobets, who were soldiers from the Ukrainian
battalions that assisted the Germans. These Ukrainian battalions were
very fierce and horrible enemies and any partisan who fell into their
hands was tortured. No one was ever left alive. As very loyal
servants to the Germans, they also took part in missions to kill Jews.
They went on many missions to catch Jews and the other non-fighting
populations hidden in the forest. When they found such populations
they would rob, rape and torture with no pity, so it's no surprise
that the partisans hated these bandrobet bands. When we took these
prisoners of war, nobody wanted to investigate much. We put them on
military trial and gave them the death penalty. I was amongst the ones
to execute the three men. I did this task with mixed feelings. On one
hand I was happy that I could take revenge on the enemies who had
spilled Jewish blood and tortured my people. On the other hand, for
many days I could not let go of the awful image when they stood
helplessly across from our line of executers. They cried and begged
for their souls as they awaited my command to open fire against them.
I took control of my feelings and yelled the word, "Fire!" All the
rifles simultaneously fired and the three men fell at once. I could
not erase this picture from my mind… There was a big difference
between killing during battle and executing after a trial. I cannot
deny that for many days my heart ached and my conscience bothered me,
preventing me from finding rest. In spite of all the troubles and the
suffering, I had not lost my humanity yet.

Our saboteur missions continued in this manner. Here I must recall the
actions and heroic death of my Jewish friend Chayim Tzichok. He was an
excellent partisan who received many awards and titles, amongst them a
hero of the Soviet Union. He took part in forty-four missions against
the enemies and in many, he fought the enemy face to face. He appeared
Aryan, which made it easy for him to dress as a Nazi. Many times he
would go to the center of German activities and kidnap German
officers, bringing them to the partisan headquarters. One night he
took part in a mission in the town of Zaslavi, a central town that
also had a train station. He was killed while running at the head of
the unit attacking the Germans. At his burial he received a ceremony
with full honors. At his grave, the head of the brigade, Lunin,
eulogized him, describing all of Chayim's heroic missions and good
deeds. They fired shots into the air to honor his memory. With the
rest of the Jews in this battalion, I listened to his speech with
emotional cries. This ceremony proved to everyone that amongst the
Jews there also existed fighters who would fight with courage. It was
a lie when our enemies said that Jews always ran away from battle. For
a while, the non-Jews let us be and did not harass us. After the
spring of 1943, my unit started taking part in large operations.

The Attack of Plescenicy

In late July, we received information we would take part in a
large-scale operation near the town of Plescenicy. The operation would
use the entire brigade, comprised of eight hundred troops. On a night
in mid-August in 1943, we received an order to close in on the town
from all directions. This town was on the main crossroads that the
Germans took to reach deeper into the Soviet Union. The town had a
large weaponry and ammunition storage facility and also carried other
essential supplies. It was also an important strategic point,
controlling telecommunication of Hitler's army. The mission consisted
of taking control of the town, to confiscating the weapons, and
disconnecting the telecommunication lines. Not far from the town there
was an important German vantage point on a tall hill where one could
see the entire road from inside the ranch. As long as this
heavily-guarded vantage point was there, nothing could be done inside
the town. Our unit was charged with capturing this vantage point.

We walked in total silence under the darkness of the night. We came
near the vantage point and one of our troop members threw a hand
grenade directly inside the German military post. We also took out
some explosives and lit them while the rest of the unit opened fire
with rifles and machine guns. After a few minutes the military post
with its formidable array of machine guns was put out of commission.
This was a sign for the entire brigade to start attacking the town.
The troops rapidly took control of the town and the operation was
declared a full success. We took much weaponry, ammunition, medical
supplies and food. We also confiscated all the money that was stored
in the local banks. I must point out that there were very few
casualties on our side during this operation. I myself was lightly
wounded in the hand from a stray bullet. I did not even realize this
at the moment, but I eventually got a very high fever and required
medical attention for quite some time.

My Work in the Combat Intelligence Unit

A few weeks after the attack on Plescenicy and after my recovery, I
was transferred to a unit of combat intelligence. Our job was to
gather information about native Russians who worked in civil
institutions and military offices for the Germans. Our job was to get
acquainted with those people and then persuade them to work for the
partisans. This was a very stressful and dangerous job, but eventually
it resulted in much success. Various missions were later expedited by
the information we received from them and many times they fully
assisted in the missions. We were able to reach places that were
heavily guarded by the Germans with their help and once we gained
access, we were able to plant explosives or steal maps and army
plans, allowing us to keep track of the enemy armies. Now we were in
the rear of the German lines and sometimes very near Ilja. I took part
in such missions until the winter of 1943-1944, until the big blockade
that Germans started against the partisans. One of my first and most
successful missions in this unit involved catching a spy who
collaborated with the Germans. He was a saboteur that was active in
our ranks. Catching him was an unexpected coincidence. One Saturday at
the end of September of 1943, right before dusk, my unit was commanded
to prepare an ambush on road between Minsk and Vilna to try to catch a
living "tongue," meaning a live German for the purpose of receiving
information. As we approached the road, we came by Osteshitsky
Gorodok. From there we went west and from a distance of a few
kilometers away, we began an ambush near a German camp. We knew that
during weekends the Germans did not man their posts as well as during
the week. They tended to look for women to spend the night with and
sometimes they would not return until the next morning. We settled
there waiting for those carousing soldiers to return. We spent all of
Saturday night and Sunday afternoon waiting. Finally, just before dusk
we saw a man dressed in civilian clothing walking towards the camp in
the direction of the headquarters. As I looked through my binoculars,
I was shocked to recognize the teacher-partisan, the editor of the
newspaper of the partisan unit. This seemed very suspicious and I told
my friends about it. I took two comrades while the rest of the
soldiers waited in the base ("ambush spot") and went towards the men.
We saw that he had a personal weapon and he carried a big bag. As soon
as he recognized us he panicked and tried to escape, but we caught him
and stripped him of his weapons. We also checked his bag, where we
found a detailed list of all the double spies. We immediately
understood that he was planning on giving this to the Germans to
destroy our cell. We knew that we had no time to hesitate so we
quickly tied him up and put him on a horse, bringing him to brigade
headquarters. After a short investigation he confessed that he indeed
was a spy and for many months had been working for the Germans. He
had exact information about everything that was occurring in our unit
as well as in others. Some of the information he had already
transferred but we had prevented him from transferring the list of our
planted assistants. We notified all of our contacts at once and they
sent the information to the main headquarters of the Red Army. We
watched him for many days until they were able to fly him to the main

Breaking Through the German Lines

The general attacks of the Germans during the early months of
1943 and 1944 completely failed. The defeated German army started
retreating from the Russian front. As a result, the Germans decided to
bring in new troops from other occupied European countries to the
Russian front. They needed to stop the Red Army which surged west
against the German front lines like a ceaseless metal sea of weaponry.
The partisans who positioned at the rear of the forests of Belarus
took control of the roads and often derailed trains, broke
communication lines and destroyed infrastructure. The German
headquarters had no choice but to try to get rid of the partisan enemy
working against them from the rear. They tried to destroy the
partisans by encircling them with a massive blockade. We started
feeling the impact of this blockade in the months of February and
March in 1944. The culminating point of the mission arrived in April
of 1944. Thirty divisions of different artillery, SS units, German and
Ukranian soldiers all took part in clearing the forest of partisans.
We fought fearlessly for every piece of forest while constantly
retreating towards the Barzina River, according to the plan of the
general headquarters. Those constant fights lasted until all of our
units arrived at the Barzina River. Once we reached the river we stood
in a long line along its shore, sandwiched between two German forces
only a few kilometers apart. We received an order to fight regardless
of the cost and to keep our position on the river. The fight was
fierce and seemingly perpetual. We were backed against the roaring
river by the best of the German force. The battles lasted many bloody
weeks until certain spots of the enemy forces finally fell. We
received an order to go west and buttress the front for the Soviets.
We had many casualties but we were still able to break the enemy lines
near Smolensk. They could not recapture control of the line anymore
and started retreating in panic. We returned after those bitter
battles to our original base of operation in the district of Minsk.
When we returned, we found it was a ground zero of mass destruction.
Many villages had been abandoned by the natives, but yet nature was
still beautiful as ever – the fields stood strong and green, filled
with blossoms; the wheat was tall and ready for harvest. This was the
June of 1944.

We walked in small units through muddy trails in the fields. Once in a
while we would encounter German forces that immediately dropped their
weapons to be taken by the Red Army as prisoners of war. As soon as
the partisan units were able to break the front, the regular Red Army
started a big westward push. Many German units therefore found
themselves surrounded and had no choice but to surrender. We knew that
it was just a matter of days before the Red Army reached the road
between Minsk and Vilna. Our job was now to clear the road. On the
thirtieth of June 1944 while walking toward the road between Minsk and
Plescenicy, we saw from afar a massive army force coming toward us. We
came about a hundred meters away from them and then I ordered everyone
to stop. All of a sudden they also ordered us to stop. I realized that
this was not one of our troop units and so I ordered everyone to open
fire. There was then fire from all directions directed towards us. I
glanced over and witnessed two of my friends crumble into bloody
masses, ridden with bullets. I then felt a strong blow near my eyes
that knocked me down. Others around me were able to hide amongst the
grass stalks. I remember nothing else because I lost consciousness
very quickly. As I was told later, I lay in the field unconscious for
a long time until some farmers and partisans found me and transferred
me to the hospital of the brigade Revenger. When I woke up, I had a
case of amnesia. For a month I recovered at the headquarters in Minsk,
where my troops greeted me happily since they had been sure that I had
died. At the end of July, I was flown to a military hospital all the
way in Moscow to continue my treatment. By the end of August 1944, all
the partisan units from Belarus had united with the Red Army and
started fighting on the Warsaw front and other parts of Poland. The
cities were cleansed of the German presence. In Minsk itself there was
a splendid parade of partisans along with the members of the Red Army,
but I did not take part in it since I was still recovering. After two
operations, I was flown to Peatigorsk in Caocas to recover. There I
received very warm and professional treatment since the female Jewish
doctor who took care of me was Doctor Kapilovich from Vilna. She
treated me like a mother would her son. Even when I recovered
sufficiently, she did not let me leave since she knew very well that
there was no place to return to – no family and no home.

Truthfully, the conditions at the hospital were wonderful, but I
wanted to return to my home. I lived with the irrational illusion and
hope that some of my dear ones had survived.

During the winter months of 1945 I started on my journey back home and
it wasn't until April of 1945 that I arrived in the area of Ilja.
Before reaching Ilja, I had stopped in Vileyka and reunited with the
Polish doctor Yakstir and his wife from Ilja. They treated me as if I
were a close relative. They begged me to stay with them and to work in
the hospital, but I admitted that I could not bear doing so. I needed
a rest from my depression and sorrow. While walking in such a state in
the streets of Vileyka, I met my dear childhood friend Jonah Rier. He
had returned to Ilja long before me and now he was managing the flower
mill in Viyazin next to Ilja. He took me to Ilja, where I met my
friend Shraga Solominsky and a few other young Jewish survivors from

I cannot explain the intense feelings that washed through me, over me.
I realized that I stood there with the only remnants of Ilja, the
sole survivors of the Holocaust pyre. The quaint town of my childhood
and of sweet memories no longer existed, wiped off the face of the
earth and of memory. No amount of tears and bloodshed could ever
bring it back. Memories of better days were only that. Memories. As
a husk of its former self and scarred with the desperation of orphans
and widows, the Jewish shtetl had died and with it, my desperate

I arrived at Stara Huta and encountered the Christian maid who used to
work for us before the days of blood and fire. She was dressed in the
clothes of my mother and her husband wore my father's clothes. My
breath caught in my throat and all I could hear was the blood pulsing
through my head. They did not feel happy seeing me either. They saw me
as the silent and frozen persecutor. It would have been easier for
them if I had yelled at them, but I couldn't. My voice had escaped me,
but I screamed wordlessly on the inside. I was meeting with shadows of
my childhood, with those who took care of me in infancy, with those
who had superimposed their lives upon my dead family. All I did was
take my cousin's ring from this maid. This ring is the only remnant of
my entire family who went to the road of no return with most of the
Jews of Ilja. The thought that I could settle here and start my life
anew expired in that instant. With each step, I felt the weight of the
graves of my family. If I wanted to survive, I could not remain in
that town of nothingness, where orphans stumbled through the streets
and death appeared in everything.

I left Ilja. For some time I worked with Shraga in Vyazin but I could
not find rest there either. I moved in with my friend Rotblatt the
engineer who managed a rubbing alcohol factory in Chimovishtzina near
Molodechno, but here again I could not find rest. Here I encountered
Alexandrovich from Grodno, a partisan from our unit, a major sergeant.
He was a proud Jew who had a rich past. Some of his family members had
communist ties when the area was controlled by Poland before the war
and his nephew had been a well-known and dedicated communist leader.
During the 1930s, in the time between the wars, Alexandrovich had been
a prisoner at Kartozbraza, an infamous concentration camp. Now he
lived in Vileyka and I befriended him. Despite all of these
friendships, I still lacked something, anything that could keep me in
my homeland. Filled with pain and loss, I realized I could never find
rest there. This occurred strongly to me after one particular day on
the train to Oshmani when I encountered true anti-Semites. People
started blaming me as a cowardly Jewish parasite who did not
contribute to society, who did not fight against the Germans. This was
the last straw that broke the camel's back. I couldn't take it
anymore. After enduring such blood and fire, after taking part in this
war of revenge where I defended my honor as a man and a Jew, after
almost going blind from my battle wounds, after all the bitterness of
existing in this black world void of my loved ones, after my heart had
emptied, I could not handle these lies and blind hatred. I had no
choice but to leave behind the place of my adolescence and my hopes of
remaining here as a remnant of my family and the Jewish community. I
knew that I had to leave this land, a land soaked with Jewish blood. I
had to go west to reach the land of Israel. I knew that I would do
anything to start a new life. I transferred to the area that is now
Poland and from there, arrived at the land of Israel.

Now I live in Haifa, Israel and I have tried to put the past behind
me. I have a family and I look towards life and the future ahead, yet
still the past continues to fester deep down inside of me.